“I’m kind of a shopaholic. It’s great for me to own a store,” said Evan Hughes, with a smile that has surely stopped its share of traffic along Santa Monica Boulevard, where Hughes owns two clothing boutiques: Brick & Mortar and BAM. “I like things. And I like to buy them.”
Hughes, 41, then sells them to WeHo’s residents and tourists, and to the world online.
A tall drink of water from Huntington Beach, Hughes offers a combination of clothing brands, including his own, at his shops. His boyfriend of five years, Steve Fogg, 36, is a graphic artist and designs their house brand of t-shirts and accessories featuring the couple’s French Bulldogs, Maddie and Otto. Hughes feels WeHo is home in many respects. He came out and lived here for 20 years, but the couple now lives in a restored late 19th Century house in L.A.’s University Park.
Before we talk about his couplet of down-to-earth, accessible shops, Hughes told me that his full-time job is as a professor of cinema studies at USC. (The dude’s a PhD, y’all.) “When you are doing that kind of work you need a creative outlet,” he said.
On the academic side, teaching and presenting at conferences, Hughes helps urban planners and architects communicate visually. In retail though, his “real goal was to just have a cute place for people to make West Hollywood more like a community.”
How did Brick & Mortar begin? “I think she was a trans woman fortune teller,” Hughes said, describing the beginning. “She put this ‘for rent sign’ in [the window], and I thought, ‘This is fate’. I called the owners and rented it that day.”
That was in 2006, and Hughes’ initial shop was at the corner of Kings Road and Santa Monica Boulevard, across from Gelson’s, on the lot where The Crown apartments are being built. Hughes first tried candles and housewares, but, he said, “I realized that clothing was the thing that was connecting with people. It is so much easier to sell. Everybody needs it.”
The academic/entrepreneur is someone on whom fate and synchronicity have smiled. He moved to his current location in 2007 (the second store, BAM, an acronym of the original brand – opened in 2015). “I always liked this building, Hughes said. “I teach at a film school, and this used to be the Douglas Fairbanks Studio offices.” The kicker is that Fairbanks “started the School of Cinematic Arts at USC,” Hughes said. (An episode of Gay Twilight Zone dressed in men’s casual wear, or what?)
“Originally this was going to be a women’s store,” Hughes said, referring to BAM. Its current mix is 50/50 men’s and women’s offerings. “But my heart is really in menswear. That’s what I’d been buying, and I know how to do it.” In fact, you may see BAM convert to “gym and swim.” It’s a best-selling category, though Hughes told me the margin is not as high as one might think.
Like any successful businessperson, Hughes knows to respond to the market. The stores’ most expensive items fall into the $150 – $200 range. “One hundred ninety [dollars] is my limit,” Hughes said. Several years ago, before the Great Recession, he sold $300 denim. Today that is unheard of.
“Things change. Times change,” Hughes said. “So often people come in and they’re shocked at how relatively inexpensive things are.”
Remember the “creative outlet” part? If Hughes could wave a magic wand, he would build out Brick & Mortar’s own line. Before he met Fogg, he designed the t-shirts himself; he even had a silkscreen press upstairs. “I would love to develop that out even more. Do a clothing line, merchandising.”
Not only locals enjoy his brand. “There’s French Bulldog enthusiasts,” Hughes said. “We get [those] people on our website all the time.”
As for the near future, it’s all about tank tops. Summer is right around the corner, and WeHo men demand bicep-revealing tops. When Hughes goes to trade shows (he just got back from one in Vegas) he buys a year in advance. So Spring 2018 just got purchased.
“Right now, culturally, it’s a very strange time,” Hughes said. “Everything with Trump becoming president, there’s a lot of tension. For all the horrible things happening in the world of politics, I think in the world of art there might be this sort of renaissance and explosion.”
Perhaps such feelings will lead to a new Brick & Mortar line that its customers will wear with pride. Many consider the new president a bulldog of sorts. Otto and Maddie might woof in agreement, but would probably say that he’s definitely not French.
Brick & Mortar, BAM
8713 Santa Monica Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90069